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Formation of Ashe County, North Carolina

The legislative act establishing Ashe County was one of the shortest on record. It was enacted in 1799, is found in chapter 36 of the laws of that year and simply reads:

The General Assembly Do Enact.

That all of that part of the County of Wilkes, lying west of the extreme height of the Appalachian Mountains, shall be and the same is hereby erected into a separate and distinct county by the name of Ashe.

The border between Tennessee and North Carolina had not been firmly established when Ashe County was established in 1799. The survey party began their work in Ashe County, and John Preston Arthur in his History of Western North Carolina noted that the survey team spent their first days with Captain Isaac Weaver of northwestern Ashe County. The survey team consisting of General Joseph McDowell, Colonel David Vance and Major Mussendine Matthews, commissioners; John Strother and Robert Henry surveyors, B. Collins, James Hawkins, George Penland, Robert Logan, George Davidson and J. Matthews were the chain bearers. Major James Neely served as the supply officer on the expedition, which began on May 22, 1799 on Pond Mountain. The survey team followed the current border the first day to an extremely dense grove of laurels. (A road was later put in and the area is now called Cut Laurel Gap) an area later famous for illicit moonshine.

This western border of Ashe County and indeed North Carolina was the source of considerable anxiety in the late 18th century. The State of Franklin, the abortive precursor to Tennessee had claimed the crest of the Blue Ridge as its eastern boundary when that state was organized at Jonesborough in 1784. While most of the resident of Ashe County continued to accept the authority of North Carolina, two state governments issuing land grants in the same territory posed some potential severe problems for the residents of the region. While most land grants in the Upper New River Valley below 36°30′ were issued by North Carolina, a few near the present Tennessee state line were issued by the State of Franklin.

The border between Ashe and Burke county was not well defined and in 1807 the legislature declared the border to be:

…That the boundary between the counties of Ashe and Burke, shall be established and known by the following boundaries, to wit: beginning at the Blowing Rock on the Blue Ridge, near Yadkin Spring, running thence a due west course, crossing some of the head waters of Watauga River and Elk Creek, then along the extreme height of said ridge that divides the waters of Toe River from those of Watauga and Elk Creek, to the Tennessee line, leaving all the waters of Toe River, and the head waters of Watauga south of said due west line, in Burke, and all waters of Elk and the waters of Watauga, north of said line, in the county of Ashe…. commissioners to extend and mark the line from the Blowing Rock, west to the top of the ridge between Watauga waters and Elk Waters and no further…

In 1814 the boundary between Ashe and Burke County was surveyed to the Tennessee State line:

… That the following boundaries, to wit, beginning at the Yadkin springs, thence along the extreme height of the Blue Ridge, to the head spring of Flat-top fork of Elk Creek, thence down the meanders of said creek to the Tennessee State line, shall be and the same is hereby declared the permanent dividing line between the counties of Burke and Ashe.

In 1835 part of Wilkes County was annexed to Ashe:

… all that part of the county of Wilkes lying north and north-west of a line to be drawn from the extreme height of a Nob called Dockery Nob, running so as to include all the inhabitants, lying north of a direct line from said Nob to a point running north-east, so as to strike the now dividing line a five and half miles distance from Dockery Nob, running a north-eastwardly course until it strikes the Ashe County line, be added to Ashe county.

The first major division of Ashe County occurred in 1849, when parts of Ashe, Wilkes, Caldwell and Yancey County were formed into Watauga County. The primary motivator for this change was Ashe’s state senator, Jordan Council, who lived in the proposed new county.

…That a county be, and is hereby, laid off and established by the name of Watauga, to be composed of parts of the counties of Ashe, Wilkes, Caldwell and Yancey, beginning at the State line in the Lemuel Wilson’s plantation, and running with the State line in a Northern direction two miles; thence running as near as may be in a direct line, (…to leave Thomas Sutherland in… Ashe) to the top of the Big Bald mountain; thence to the mouth of Elk Creek, on the South fork of New river’ thence down the river to the mouth of a creek that runs down through the Samuel Cooper’s plantation; thence to the Deep Gap of the Blue Ridge; thence along the dividing ridge between the waters of Stoney fork and Lewis’s fork waters of the Yadkin river; to where the road leading from Wilkesboro to the Deep Gap, crosses the top of the Laurel Spur; thence to Elk Creek at the Widow Hampton’s; thence to the top of the White Rock Mountain; thence to the top of the Blue Ridge at the nearest point to the Yadkin Springs; thence along the extreme height of the Blue Ridge to the top of the Grandmother mountain; thence with the line of Burke county to the corner of McDowell county; thence to the State line where it crosses the Yellow mountain; thence with the State line to the beginning.